Kaj Sullivan

Doctoral Candidate, Queen’s University

Isotope Geochemistry: A Journey in Versatility and Innovation

Kaj's Final Report

In the Hugh C. Morris Experiential Learning Fellowship, the Kimberley Foundation has provided an incredible opportunity for PhD students to step outside of their regular studies to perform research and build relationships with leaders in their field. As an experimental geochemist, I used this opportunity to visit theoretical chemistry researchers in Japan to learn about the theoretical estimation of isotope fractionation. Their research is essential for the interpretation of isotopic data measured by experimental geochemists, like myself. My time there consisted of learning to use computational chemistry software to estimate isotope fractionation of copper and zinc in simple complexes. I also visited researchers at Imperial College London to work on a study investigating the use of zinc isotopes in serum as biological markers of breast cancer. This work also involved the measurement of zinc isotopes in malignant and benign breast tissues, along with histologically normal tissue adjacent to tumors to determine how the distribution of zinc isotopes in breast tissue relates to serum. To round out my fellowship, six months were spent at National Research Council Canada in Ottawa, Canada working with Dr. Lu Yang. There, I worked to characterize the copper isotopic composition of six geological and four biological reference materials that will be crucial for researchers validating their results as the distribution of copper isotopes in the environment gains increased interest from the scientific community. I look forward to publishing the results obtained throughout my fellowship in the form of four scientific journal articles!

It’s amazing to think that this journey began just over one year ago. The journey doesn’t end here, though. I’ve been fortunate enough to secure funding to allow me to return to Imperial College London for three months from July to October to analyze some of my own research samples using the techniques I learned last Fall. I’m excited for the chance to continue to foster the relationship with Imperial College researchers that began last year and finally meet Dr. Fiona Larner, whose 2015 paper on zinc isotopic compositions in breast cancer tissues helped inspire my interest in the applications of isotope geochemistry in human health. Thank you to the Kimberley Foundation Board for this incredible opportunity you’ve given me. I’ve grown so much over this past year and am honored to have been able to complete a learning program inspired by Hugh Morris’ own journey of learning through gaining hands-on experience.

Kaj's Amazing Learning Journey

Update from the NRC

It’s been a while since my last update and I can’t believe I have only a few weeks left in Ottawa at National Research Council Canada (NRC). To make up for the delay, this is going to be a big one! One reason for the delay is that I’m being kept very busy by my […]

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Mid Term Report

The Kimberley Foundation has provided an incredible opportunity for PhD students to step outside of their regular studies to perform research and build partnerships that would not have otherwise been possible. As an experimental geochemist, I used this opportunity to visit theoretical chemistry researchers in Japan to learn about the theoretical estimation of isotope fractionation. Their research is essential for the interpretation of isotopic data measured by experimental geochemists, like myself. My time there consisted of learning to use computational chemistry softwares to estimate isotope fractionation of copper and zinc in simple complexes. I also visited researchers at Imperial College London to work on a study investigating the use of zinc isotopes in serum as biological markers of breast cancer. This work also involved the measurement of zinc isotopes in malignant and benign breast tissues, along with histologically normal tissue adjacent to tumours to determine how the distribution of zinc isotopes in breast tissue relates to serum. I look forward to what the next six months will bring as I continue my journey at National Research Council Canada in Ottawa where I will work with researchers to characterize a purified copper isotopic reference material.

Kaj's Experiential Plan

Albert Einstein once said, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” This is the journey upon which Kaj Sullivan, a doctoral student in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering at Queen’s University, is embarking.

Working on a multidisciplinary research project that applies isotope geochemistry, a field traditionally applied to earth sciences, to the field of medical research, Kaj is working to investigate the potential of Copper and Zinc isotopes in serum as biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Beginning in June 2018, Kaj’s year-long experiential learning journey will provide him with extended periods of time at leading research laboratories in Japan, the United Kingdom and at the National Research Council in Canada. During these visits he will engage in the characterization of nickel isotopic standard, calculate isotope fractionation in biological processes, and research zinc isotopes as biological markers of breast cancer.

Kaj describes the approach he will take for his learning journey the best: “The versatility of isotope geochemistry is what makes it such an exciting field of research. It allows isotope geochemists to enter the territory of other researchers as ‘deliberate amateurs’ and find innovative solutions to old problems.”

Learn more here on our website as Kaj’s research journey unfolds.

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